Poststructuralism and Ethics

I have been wrestling with poststructuralist modes of thinking for some
time. The conclusion I have been coming to is that poststructuarism is both
very powerful and yet impotent. It is powerful in terms of the insights it
can reveal about social practices and beliefs and the relationship between
power and knowledge. It is impotent to suggest alternatives or to evaluate
the ethics of alternatives. (Ethics, that is what is
righ/wrong/good/bad/valuable/etc. are after all nothing more than socially
constructed "truths").

I find the notion that there are no absuloute truths, and that what we call
truth is socially constructed to be very compelling. I also find the
concept of discursive formation, and the concept of power/knowledge to be
very powerful.

My diffiuclty is the way in which (for example) feminist poststructuralsists
use these methods of analysis to argue for a course of action or some other
outcome. Indeed, most of the poststructuralists I have read seem to argue
the case of a group who are disadvantaged across an axis of inequality. Be
that axis gender, race, class, diability, the criminal justice system, penal
institutions, etc. In all these cases, it would appear that
poststructuralist authors assert that equality is a larger truth, or a goal
that society should pursue. Yet, this goal of equality is never justified
(and as far as I can tell, cannot be justified) within the poststructuralist

To complicate my dilemma, most poststructuralists set them selves against
the enlightenment, liberal pluralism and an atomist view of society.
However, almost every poststructuralist critique I have read have used
deconstruction, or an analysis of discursive processes to argue action or
change for a disadvantaged group. Yet within the poststructuralist
paradigm, the notion of disadvantage is socially constructed; and the
processes of discursive formation adopted/employed by the empowered group
are no less right/wrong/good/bad than the processes adopted by the
disempowered group. It simply is.

Indeed,I could argue that I have never read a true poststructuralist
analysis. They all appear to begin with and return to modernism and the
enlightenment. Postructuralism, is simply a convenient arguement used to
justify some preconceived view of reality, human rights, social justice, etc.

I would be appreciative if some one could point me to a compelling
reconciliation of ethics and poststructuralism. Thanks.

Bryan Palmer
Canberra - Australia's National Capital


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